Action Research: Continuing the Discussion of Student Accountability

To my chagrin, it’s been a couple of weeks since my last post, but between research, courses, and the end of the semester (not to mention wrangling a four-year-old), the last two weeks have raced by. In my last post, I discussed the topic of student accountability and the problems with establishing and enforcing it. I’ve done a significant amount of research and reading since that last post, and my ideas are beginning to evolve, maybe even revise themselves in some respects.

I had written a previous post on the importance of the real possibility of failure, and I still maintain my position that failure is an important part of success, and students must be allowed to fail and reminded that it is, in fact, an option. However, as I read more on strategies and methods for dealing with missing work and improving the student (home)work completion rate, I’m finding myself in midst of revising my opinion on late work policies. I’m not entirely sure yet what it’s being revised to, but it is changing.

A few weeks ago, I was vehemently in favor of our department policy on missing and late work and strove to adhere to it without exception. If a student submitted an assignment late one day, it is 30% off; on day two it is 50%; after that, the assignment is a 0. I have been such a proponent of this because deadlines are incredibly important and there needs to be consequences for failing to meet them. However, there are a few problems with a policy like this: one, even though it is an official policy, very few actually enforce it, meaning a gaping inconsistency in how missing and late work are handled from one teacher to the next (which makes any policy difficult to enforce or encourage students to take seriously); and two, if students are just given a zero and not expected to do the work, then they are getting out of actually doing the work…which mean no learning is actually occurring. I’ve been thinking, then, if learning is the ultimate goal of education, should we not create a system that requires students to complete the work we assign?I’m not saying there should be no penalties imposed for late work, on the contrary. But I am suggesting that we create a system that refocuses on learning as the goal of education and not the grade alone.

Here is my thinking so far:

I want to see improved (home)work completion rates schoolwide. I created a theory in action map to graphically represent the components of what I’m proposing and how the components are interdependent on on another. I decided to approach the theory in action map with a focus on current problems, targets, and actions to achieve those targets. Looking at the current circumstances of my high school and conducting some brainstorming and categorizing, I identified four major problem areas contributing to the issue of (home)work completion rates: inconsistent and varied practices and procedures among individual teachers for addressing missing work, the absence of a schoolwide intervention framework for missing or substandard work, the absence of a method for tracking missing work, and a lack of teacher-parent communication about missing or substandard work.

After identifying the problem areas, I determined what each target area would look like upon meeting success—ultimately the design and implementation of a schoolwide student accountability system, fueled by an academic intervention framework, a missing work database, and regular and consistent communication with parents about missing or substandard work. In order to move the school circumstances from problem to desired target, I identified the actions required to achieve each target. In order to begin addressing the issue of (home)work completion, teachers must first begin by recording missing work, keeping a daily submission log or checklist to record missing work when assignments are submitted. These missing assignments are to be logged the day of submission as missing on the digital gradebook by inputting an “M” in place of the grade. Parents are then immediately contacted via text, call, or email (whatever preference they indicate at the start of the year) of missing work (work considered incomplete or substandard will be returned and treated as missing). Parents of students with multiple occurrences will receive a weekly progress report.

In order to implement a schoolwide initiative such as the one suggested, teachers must work together to define what a quality assignment is and commit to only assigning work that meets the criteria of a quality assignment (the thought process being that if we want students to do the work, it needs to be work worth doing). In addition, teachers must also define what qualifies as quality student work, committing to returning substandard work for a “redo” and treating that assignment as missing. Finally, teachers must agree to maintain consistent grading policies (adherence to deadlines, prompt grading/feedback, etc.) and consistent adherence to missing work policies and procedures laid out in the academic intervention framework.

The academic intervention framework would something like this: Students with a missing assignment will report to mandatory noon tutorial until that assignment is complete to the standard of quality and submitted. Students with multiple missing assignments in one or multiple classes will report to mandatory after-school tutorial until all assignments are completed to the standard of quality and submitted. There will be disciplinary actions taken for skipping or missing a required tutorial session. If after these interventions a student still has a semester D of F, (s)he will report to summer school until that grade is brought to a C average or better.

Consistent adherence to the above policies and procedures should see a significant improvement in (home)work completion grades and, as a result, an improvement in academic achievement.

I have some kinks to work out still, but based on my research, I believe this method, if implemented consistently throughout a school building, would produce significant improvement and academic achievement.

Let me know your thoughts; send me your ideas or advice! I’d love feedback from any angle.

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